More Than Words
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
Now what do I do? Nick and I had checked in to the castle featured on the front of the brochure that afternoon, and I’d taken a short nap. When I’d woken, my headache had lessened and I’d been filled with cautious excitement. While I showered, a melody—just the echo of something that floated on some inner breeze—had drifted through my mind. I’d stumbled out and tried desperately to catch it, to get it down on paper, but it was gone. As wispy as the fragment of a forgotten dream.
Useless. You’re nothing but a waste of time.
I turned away from the river and went back inside, putting my shoes on and grabbing my wallet. I knocked quietly on the door to Nick’s room, which was right down the hall, but he didn’t answer and it looked like the lights were off inside.
There was an older couple in the elevator, and they gave me a polite smile. When I stepped inside, the woman pointed to the panel of buttons and said something in French that I assumed was, “What floor?”
“Uh, le bar.”
“Ah, oui,” she said, pressing the lowest button.
As soon as we stepped off, I could hear the familiar sounds of music, laughter, and clinking glasses. I followed the noise and ended up in a lavish room with an ornate mahogany bar taking up the entire far wall. A mirror ran the length of the wall behind the bar, reflecting the multicolored bottles on glass shelves and the sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. It was stunning, and for the first time since we’d arrived, I took a moment to look around. This is what it must have felt like to be lord of the manor—king of the castle?—back when châteaus like this one were built in … what year? I had no earthly idea. I knew nothing of history, of eras, of titles, and the reminder of my lack of education depressed me as it always did. I had money and I had fame, so why did I always feel like an imposter? Like any success I enjoyed would be taken away once people realized I had no real talent? I always felt like I was only one step ahead of a universe that was looking to expose me for the fraud I was. It made me feel sick and alone. The dread was a block of stone that sat heavily in my gut.
“Bourbon, neat. Make it a double.”
The drink was put in front of me, and I scrawled my signature on the tab, taking a sip of my drink, enjoying the smooth burn and turning toward the open room. There was a group of women standing by a seating area looking at me, whispering and giggling. When I raised my drink to them, I heard several squeals. “Five, four, three,” I muttered, barely moving my lips. I took a sip of my drink. “Two, and …” One of the women began making her way over to me.
She had nicely rounded hips and smallish breasts, and she swayed seductively as she walked, pulling at the hem of her tight red dress as if she wanted to make sure it didn’t slide up her thighs. Which was amusing considering it was so tight I could see every curve, bump, and crease of her body beneath the thin material. She came to stand in front of me, giving me a coy smile and twirling a lock of strawberry-blond hair around one finger. “My girlfriends and I have a bet. They don’t believe you’re Callen Hayes, but I think you are.”
“What do you win if you’re right?”
She giggled. “With them? Just bragging rights. But I’m hoping you’ll sweeten the pot.”
I chuckled. “Sweetening pots is my specialty. How do you feel about hot tubs?”
The Château de la Bellefeuille was a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, majestic and elegant, surrounded by expansive, formal gardens and situated next to the Loire River. I stood in the center of my room and spun around slowly, taking in the ancient stone walls, the pale green silk draperies and matching bed linens, and the simple but lovely French furnishings that looked to be refurbished originals. I was in one of the smallest rooms on the bottom floor, and even so, it was utterly charming. I could only imagine the splendor of the top-floor suites.
I had arrived via train earlier that day, checked in to the château, and taken a long walk through the gardens. It was Saturday, and the other members of the team—some of whom were not living in France—were supposed to arrive Monday. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see parts of the village we were in before diving into work. I had always loved meandering through obscure places, without the rush of a tour guide. It allowed me to feel my way around. I’d eaten alone in the château restaurant and come back to my room, intending to turn in early, but I was too excited to sleep. All day I’d had this nervous energy running through my veins, a fluttery anticipation that had only increased as the train I’d taken had sped closer to the Loire Valley. As if the area itself was luring me, as if I was meant to be here. Just like the girl dressed as Philippe had described her feelings. I’d read only one of her writings, and yet I already felt somehow close to her—connected in some vague sense—and I was eager to know where her story led.
I picked up a brochure on the writing desk and opened it, glancing at the professional photos of the château and reading the short history of the castle. Apparently, the king who originally had it built left it to two of his mistresses upon his death, rather than his children. It caused a great scandal, and despite the children’s many attempts to get it back, the mistresses—who were not friends and each occupied separate wings of the château—lived here until their deaths. A sound of irritation escaped my throat, and I tossed the brochure back on the desk. Men and their vast array of women! Did any man want to be faithful to just one?
I hefted my suitcase onto the luggage stand and zipped it open, pulling out the dresses and various clothing items Frankie had insisted I take with me. I should have remembered to hang them up right away, but I’d been too intent on exploring this massive castle to remember the garments wrinkling in my suitcase. The material must have been spun by magical fairies, though, because when I held them up, there was not a wrinkle in sight. I placed them in the closet and then set the shoes on the floor below. Frankie had loaned those to me as well, and I eyed them warily. I supposed I was very lucky we were the same size, though I had doubts I’d be able to walk in the strappy, spiky-heeled, pointy-toed contraptions in front of me. Hopefully there wouldn’t be an occasion to wear such things. Frankie had insisted I humor her and be prepared for anything. Fashion-wise at least.
I unpacked my pj’s and underwear and took my toiletries into the tiny bathroom, securing my hair into a messy bun. The shower felt wonderful as I washed the travel dust from my body, the bathroom filling with the steamy fragrance of my body wash.
Back out in my room, I eyed my pj’s, that same buzz of anticipation causing me to hesitate. I just wasn’t tired. Which was surprising, considering I’d woken early and had had a long day of travel and exploring. I stood there, holding the towel tightly around me, trying to figure out what to do. Maybe a drink at the lounge would appease the restlessness. Being that I’d spent a lot of my working hours at a bar in Paris, it wasn’t my normal distraction. But hey, I’m twenty-four. Wasn’t that what other twenty-four-year-olds did? I’d at least have one drink and enjoy a little people-watching.
I perused the clothing I’d hung in the closet and pulled out a silver dress with shimmery pale silver threads woven through the fabric. It was somewhat demure-looking, with an asymmetrical V-neck and a short A-line skirt, but when I pulled it on, it hugged my body in a way that made my waist look tiny and showed off my cleavage to its full advantage. “Oh, Clémence, you evil genius,” I murmured, turning this way and that in the full-length mirror and slipping on the silver shoes. They weren’t as uncomfortable as they looked, so I teetered into the bathroom, where I put on a bit of makeup and brushed out my hair, pulling it up into a twist and taking out a few pieces around my face. I studied myself in the mirror, feeling pleased with the effect, even though it was only for me.